Tag Archives: cocktails

Vieux Carré

New Orleans has been on my mind this week, with Mardi Gras being this last Tuesday and all. I’ve found that one of the more elusive classic New Orleans drinks to get out on the town is the Vieux Carré. It seems that few bars, even at Southern or Cajun/Creole restaurants, deem it necessary to have Bénédictine on hand, presumably due to the expense. I would remind them that there has always been a distinctly French influence on the cuisine of New Orleans, and this drink only uses 1 teaspoon. And you just can’t duplicate this drink without it.

The Vieux Carré is one of the few drinks that we conclusively know the origin of; it was invented in 1938 by Walter Bergeron at the Monteleone Hotel in New Orleans. Vieux Carré (meaning ‘Old Square’) is also one of the local names for the French Quarter. vieuxcarre

Vieux Carré

  • 1 oz rye whiskey
  • 1 oz cognac
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth
  • 1 tsp Bénédictine
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

Stir with cracked ice, strain and garnish with a lemon twist and its oils.

This is a fine and balanced drink that turns out to be very sensitive to the exact amounts called for. When proper care is exercised in measuring, I love the way the spiciness of the rye and the sugar notes of the cognac mellow with the sweetness of the vermouth and the Bénédictine. Then the drink gets a quadruple blast of herbal complexity from the herbal liqueur, the vermouth and the two kinds of bitters. It’s kind of like a Manhattan, but smoother, sweeter, more refined, and more complex.

If I use 100 proof rye, I’ll back it down to 3/4 oz. Be careful when measuring the Benedictine; use a proper kitchen teaspoon and don’t overdo it or the drink will veer into cough syrup territory. While I have used brandy as a sub for the cognac, there is definitely room here for a nicer cognac. You can control the amount of water added by the fineness of the ice. Freshly hammered ice with a reasonable portion of crushed/powdered ice makes for a smoother potion. And, of course, with a classic mostly whiskey and bitters cocktail like this, be sure to get a goodly spray of lemon peel oil on the surface and rub the peel around the rim for a wonderful citrus entry as you bring the glass to your lips.

The Vieux Carré is really one of the most enjoyable signature New Orleans cocktails and it is a shame that more of the restaurants purporting to deliver the unique cuisine of the Crescent City do not serve it on their menus.

A note on pronunciation – I’ve heard a number of folks put the full Gallic gargle on the end ‘r’. But both proper French (note the accent on the é) and current New Orleans usage is ‘voo cah-ray’ or ‘voh cah-ray’, and of course some are going to say ‘view cah-ray’.

Advertisements

Margarita – America’s #1 Tequila Delivery Device

This last Sunday (2/22) was National Margarita Day. It may seem like a strange time of year to schedule this, but my hunch is that it is because limes are in season right now, and the best margaritas use fresh squeezed lime juice. Whatever you may say about commercial margaritas, we can thank this drink for bringing tequila to America. As recently as the 1950’s, tequila was seen as a tough man’s drink and wasn’t very popular at all. Let’s shake one up.

Margarita (7-4-3)

  • 1 3/4 oz Tequila
  • 1 oz orange liqueur (Cointreau/Citronge)
  • 3/4 oz fresh squeezed lime juice

Shake with cracked ice until frosty and strain into a chilled, salt rimmed (optional) glass.

margarita

No, I didn't drink that monster all in one sitting.

A margarita is really a simple drink, basically a New Orleans
Tequila Sour and a predecessor to the Cosmo, with its roots traced back to the Daisy. In fact, ‘margarita’ means ‘daisy’ in Spanish.

With so few ingredients, you really need to pay attention to each one. Make sure to get a ‘puro‘ (100% agave) tequila and look for ‘Hecho en Mexico‘ on the label. Otherwise it is likely to be low quality stuff shipped over the border in a tanker and USA bottled. Some prefer a blanco here, claiming the oaky notes of a reposado or añejo are unwelcome, but I disagree. Obviously the base tequila makes a huge difference, but my experience had been that this is a classic example of the kind of mixology that gives you a way to use more inexpensive bottlings. My house mixing tequila was the Margaritaville blanco (a cheap mixto), but I recently picked up some Lunazul reposado. It’s 100% agave and available at a very reasonable price point. Next, do yourself a favor and trade up that old Triple Sec for something better. Jay over at Oh Gosh! has a great write-up of bottlings. Continuing on with the ingredients, you absolutely must use fresh limes, and if necessary adjust sweetness with the liqueur to balance out any extra tart limes.

Variations

How much variation before it is no longer a margarita? Margaritas are quite bastardized these days, but the recipe is surprisingly flexible. I currently favor the 3-2-1 recipe I first tried after reading Regan’s Joy of Mixology, mostly because it is easy to remember. Before that I used a recipe of approximately 4-3-2. There are schools of thought that use some lemon, maybe some simple syrup and a fair number of the current crop of gourmet recipes includes some zest from the citrus. Gran Marnier is a common component of a ‘Cadillac Margarita’, but this is starting to stray a little far for my taste. Blood orange juice, pomegranate, mango and even passion fruit (lillikoi) have made their way into ‘margaritas’ I’ve seen in restaurants.

Going simpler, there are those that substitute agave nectar for the orange liqueur, to better taste the tequila, but I have trouble calling that a margarita.

Anyway, don’t forget about the venerable margarita when you are looking for a drink to make. I don’t make a heck of a lot of margaritas around the house (at least not in the winter) but it is a classic for a reason. And next time you find yourself sipping on a top-shelf tequila or mezcal, think about the humble margarita and its role in bringing that spirit to the American market.